The foremost gardening concern among rural New Englanders at the turn of the 19th century was the cultivation of useful vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Rapid changes and a spirit of reform in the next few decades inspired an interest in ornamental gardening. The vegetable and flower gardens at the Village exhibit plant types, gardening practices, and garden styles of the 1830s. These are based on extensive research by staff members using historical sources such as letters, diaries, reminiscences, seed and nursery catalogs, and garden advice books. As staff locate historic varieties--from modern seed catalogs, gardeners and seed collectors, and other museums--they introduce them to Village gardens.
The Bixby House kitchen garden displays vegetable, herb, and small fruit varieties commonly cultivated in New England in the early 19th century. At the Parsonage, the minister's kitchen garden follows an advice book and demonstrates a more scientific and experimental approach. The flower gardens show a variety of plants and garden styles. A pleasure garden at the Towne House shows formal period design, while the dooryard garden at the Parsonage shows a more informal style. The Children's Garden at the Fitch House is based on a period book encouraging curiosity in the young.
While saving seed was -- and still is -- an important part of the harvest of annual flowers and vegetables, both kitchen gardens also have a bed devoted to saving seeds of biennial vegetables such as carrots and beets, which require a second growing season -- essentially replanting the root -- to flower and produce seed.
The museum also maintains an extensive Herb Garden in the formal exhibit area where nearly 400 plants grow in terraced beds. Each plant is labeled and has documented 19th-century household, culinary, and/or medicinal uses. Knowledgeable costumed staff who care for the re-created gardens answer visitors' questions and lead garden tours.